Italy's foreign minister is urging the European Union to strengthen its commitment to integrating western Balkan countries to help counter rising nationalist tensions in the region.
Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Kosovo are at different stages of joining the bloc. Recently, domestic political clashes and tense relations between states in the region have increasingly posed obstacles to the process.
"Balkan countries have a strategic importance not only for Italy, but for all Europe," Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on March 14 as he visited Albania.
"The risk of instability in Balkan countries is rising and this may put in question the results achieved so far. Due to that situation, the EU should reaffirm its role as a main partner in the region and send a strong and concrete message of cooperation and commitment to all the western Balkan countries," he said.
Italy will host a summit of some EU and western Balkan nations in Trieste on July 12. Launched by German Chancellor Angela Merkel four years ago, the so-called Berlin process each year gives leaders in the western Balkans a chance to discuss joint projects or platforms with help from the EU.
While Alfano was touring the Balkans, Merkel hosted Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on March 14 to discuss migration and other issues.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini toured the region earlier this month, trying to reassure Balkan countries that the EU remains open to enlarging despite discord within the 28-nation bloc aggravated by Britain's vote last year to exit the union.
Alfano said both the western Balkan countries and the rest of Europe would benefit from greater cooperation.
"The EU is not at an easy moment. But it is the most achieved institutional and political experiment of the world history," he said.
"There is no other case where people at war, with millions of people dead, in a few decades achieve freedom, democracy, well-being, and turn into the second industrial power in the world."